The 20 Greatest January Movie Releases of All Time

Oh, the dreaded January movie releases. It’s almost a stereotype that a film that gets released in the first month of the new year is being dumped by the studio so it won’t bomb as badly if it were playing later on during the year. Most industries are slow in January; you’re getting back into the swing of things after the holidays, and that takes a few weeks. So that’s why, even in a billion-dollar-a-year industry like the movie business, some films have to fill the void in the box office even in the slow season.



However, January film releases have seen their fair share of surprises. Sometimes it feels like a studio actually rolled the dice with a cool concept for a film that has the potential for big returns. It’s also a safe time to have a film that is high in concept but low in cost hit the screen, so if it’s a home run, executives can reap the rewards of a hit in January. Here are a few examples of January not sucking at the box office.


20 Orange County – January 11th, 2002

Orange County

Orange County

Release Date
January 10, 2002

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
82

Orange County stars Colin Hanks as a soon-to-be high school graduate who just wants to be a writer and yearns to get into Stanford and study under a prestigious professor and writer. When his guidance counselor sends the wrong transcript with his college application to the school, he now must prove who he is and how he yearns to attend the school, and the only person who can help him is his loser brother Lance (Jack Black).

A Star Studded Cast

Orange County is bound to get lost in the shuffle of early 2000s movies. But everyone in this film is on point. Colin Hanks plays the lead character, Shaun, who is likable and just trying to get the hell out of southern California. Jack Black is at his best as a sidekick character. Something that may have been beneath him career-wise at the time, and yet he owns it. It’s also chock-full of supporting roles from Lily Tomlin and Catherine O’Hara, Harold Ramis, John Lithgow, and Chevy Chase. It’s also produced by MTV and has a fun southern California rock vibe to the soundtrack. At an 82-minute runtime, you can’t go wrong with this comedy.

Rent on Prime Video

Related: Every Movie Releasing in Theaters in January 2024

19 Matinee – January 29th, 1993

A theater scene in the Cuban Missile Crisis comedy, Matinee
Universal Pictures

Matinee follows a group of teenagers who are about to go to an opening-night screening of an eccentric director’s new movie, “Mant!”. John Goodman plays the role of director Lawrence Woolsey, who has his big sci-fi monster movie premiere in Key West, Florida. He utilizes the current state of affairs to help draw excitement, as in the world around the event, the Cuban Missile Crisis is taking place.

An Underrated Joe Dante Classic

Leave it to Joe Dante to make a masterpiece of a movie that we all kind of forgot about in the early 1990s. There are a lot of great genre-specific filmmaking tactics being used here. A period film that has a dramatic historical moment at the backdrop of it and is seen through the eyes of a child. And it was also about the love for monster movies in the early 1960s. Joe Dante has, time and time again, made films like that, which have wowed us time and time again.

Rent on Prime Video

18 Leprachaun – January, 8th, 1993

Leprechaun

Leprechaun

Release Date
January 8, 1993

Director
Mark Jones

Rating
R

Runtime
92

A few weeks before Matinee, horror got a new face of evil. Leprechaun, starring Jennifer Aniston (you forgot that, didn’t you?) was released, thus creating a franchise about a murderous and monstrous leprechaun (Warwick Davis), who follows a man home from a trip from Ireland where some of his gold was stolen from him. The little creature goes on a murderous rampage to get his gold back.

A Cult Classic Holiday Horror

Horror was falling apart a bit in the early 1990s after a successful decade in the 1980s within the genre. Leprechaun wasn’t the hero many fans asked for, but it’s what they got for its new face of horror. As the franchise went on, it seemed to fall apart a bit and get even more campy than the one before it. But Warwick Davis is the film’s saving grace. Under an amazing makeup job, he brings some good scares, humor, and Irish charm to the role. What isn’t there to like about Leprechaun and most of its sequels? It’s the ultimate turn-your-brain off horror franchise.

Stream on Tubi

17 Juice – January 17th, 1992

A close up of Tupac Shakur in Juice(1992)
Paramount Pictures 

Juice is about four friends from Harlem who begin to dabble in petty criminal attempts. The leader of the pack, Bishop (Tupac Shakur), becomes quite trigger-happy and plots a robbery one night. It, however, conflicts with the ideas of another member of the group, Q (Omar Epps). He is someone who aspires to be a DJ and gets a gig that conflicts with the night of the robbery. Tensions ensue among the two group members.

The word “overlooked” may be used from time to time in this list, if you haven’t noticed by now. Most films in January are a bit undervalued. But Ernest Dickerson’s tale of innocence being lost in the inner city streets of Harlem is a heartbreaking tale. If only Tupac had lived longer and didn’t get mixed up with the wrong crowds in the music industry, who knows what he would have been able to do with his acting talents? He’s electric in this film. Juice is a cautionary tale with themes that date back to old gangster pictures like Little Ceaser and Public Enemy.

Stream on Max via Prime Video

16 Hostel – January 6, 2006

Hostel

Hostel

Release Date
January 6, 2006

Cast
Jay Hernandez , Derek Richardson , Eythor Gudjonsson , Barbara Nedeljakova , Jan Vlasák , Jana Kaderabkova

Rating
R

Runtime
95

Released nationwide on January 6th, 2006, Eli Roth’s Hostel is about venturing across Europe gone wrong was a big hit in the horror genre. Best friends Josh and Paxton (Derek Richardson and Jay Hernandez) stop off in Amsterdam on their summer trip, where they indulge in sex and drugs and then find themselves tied down to a chair being tortured by other fierce-looking humans as part of a deadly game for the wealthy.

Eli Roth’s Sophomore Classic

Eli Roth didn’t miss a step from his indie hit Cabin Fever to his big-budget movie attempt with Hostel. On the heels of two Saw movies, Hostel helped further the torture porn subgenre. The film is loaded with moments that make anyone squeamish look away. There is also a little cameo in the movie from Quentin Tarantino as a shirtless man yelling out the window, as well as Takasi Miike showing up in a cameo as well. Another fun fact: Hostel was based on a real-life website based in Thailand that claimed that for $10,000, customers could commit murder via the website.

Stream on Frevee

15 Smokin’ Aces – January 26th, 2007

Las Vegas magician and criminal turned snitch Buddy ‘Aces’ Israel (Jeremy Piven) has agreed to testify against mob boss Primo Sparazza. Before he can enter the witness protection program, Sparazza puts a bounty on Israel’s head while the snitch hides out in a penthouse overlooking Lake Tahoe. A group of eccentric hitmen and women make their way there to do the job and collect the bounty.

The Perfect Action Movie for January

If Smokin’ Aces had had a June or July release, even in 2007, a year prior to the beginning of the MCU, it would have bombed. Sometimes it’s all about marketing a movie to fit the right weekend, and Smokin’ Aces just sounds perfect for an early-year release. The characters are entertaining; there isn’t too much depth to the film, but it’s a wild ride, and just look at this cast. Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta make a great young and aging FBI team. Alicia Keys, Chris Pine (pre-Star Trek), Ben Affleck in two scenes, Common, Andy Garcia, Joel Edgerton, and Taraji P. Henson.

Rent on Prime Video

14 Split – January 20th, 2017

Split

Split

Release Date
November 15, 2016

Cast
James McAvoy , Sebastian Arcelus , Ameerah Briggs , Betty Buckley , Izzie Coffey , Nakia Dillard

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
116

Split is directed by M. Night Shyamalan and stars James McAvoy in one of the best roles of his career. With an initial release in late 2016, the film really hit traction with its bigger release in January 2017. In the role of Kevin (McAvoy), a man with 23 personalities, he kidnaps three teenage girls, and what’s even scarier is the emergence of the 24th one.

M. Night Shyamalan’s Big Return

For many years, people thought that Shyamalan had fallen hard due to one box office blunder after another over the last decade. Split marked his return to box office success and showed us that he could still make a heck of a suspenseful movie. It was a landmark movie in the career of Anna Taylor-Joy, who was fresh off her big debut in The Witch the year earlier, and a huge credit to James McAvoy here. He had been around the block for a few years in great movies, but boy does this film show his range and make him now able to rock it in genre movies.

Rent on Prime Video

13 Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood – January 12, 1996

By 1996, many films about life in the hood had come to pass. Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (or Don’t Be a Menace for short) is a spoof of movies like Menace to Society and Boyz in the Hood done in a way that only Shawn and Marlon Wayans could do. It’s the tale of a guy trying to not be a part of the street lifestyle of South Central Los Angeles but is in close contact with his gang member cousin, so a series of hilarious spoof-like situations ensue.

A Classic Wayans Brothers Comedy

Marlon and Shawn always deliver on material like this. Don’t Be a Menace is a classic comedy that takes tropes that we have seen and shines a comedic light on them. It was made on a $3 million budget and had a domestic return of $20 million. Small numbers in the eyes of Hollywood, but it kept the Wayans making movies. We would see them do this kind of work again at the turn of the millennium with Scary Movie and many other comedies of this nature. Don’t Be a Menace has become a cult classic of the 1990s.

Stream on Starz via Apple TV

12 Tremors – January 19th, 1990

tremors

Tremors

Release Date
January 19, 1990

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
96

In Tremors, Fred Ward and Kevin Bacon play repairmen in a desert town called Perfection in the middle of Nevada. They plan to skip town, but before doing so, they begin to encounter a series of murders linked to strange, grizzly-looking creatures. Soon, they become the last line of defense against these worm-like underground creatures that want to eat any human they can that walks on the ground.

Tremors Kicked Off the 1990s Era of Genre Films

Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, and…wait for it… Reba McEntire stars in this horror comedy that kicked off the decade in a fun way. Tremors is a creature feature that draws a little inspiration from the novel Dune. But screenwriter S.S. Wilson got the idea for it while working out in the desert of California while in the navy. He rested on a rock for a few minutes and wondered what it would be like if a creature stalked him from underground, and he could not get off the rock.

Rent on Prime Video

Related: Why Tremors is the Perfect B-Horror Movie

11 From Dusk Till Dawn – January 19th, 1996

from dusk till dawn

From Dusk Till Dawn

Release Date
January 19, 1996

Rating
R

Runtime
108

From Dusk Till Dawn stars George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino as the infamous Gecko brothers, who have pulled off a bank robbery and need to lie low. They hit the Mexican border and kidnapped a preacher man and his family. The criminals and their hostages find a hideout at a topless bar that soon is revealed to be a hot spot for vampires to hang out in. Now all the humans in the club must band together and survive the night.

Tarantino and Rodriguez Make Movie Magic

With a script written by both Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, From Dusk til Dawn is two superstars behind the camera, firing on all cylinders. To this day, this may be Robert Rodriguez’s best film. George Clooney would never do something like this now, so to see him in this role is a real treat, as is, of course, the iconic, seductive Salma Hayek dance number that turns utterly terrifying.

Stream on Max via Prime Video

10 Scanners – January 14th, 1981

scanners

Scanners

Release Date
January 14, 1981

Director
David Cronenberg

Cast
Jennifer O’Neill , Stephen Lack , Patrick McGoohan , Lawrence Dane , Michael Ironside , Robert A. Silverman

Rating
R

Runtime
103

Scanners is David Cronenberg’s science fiction drama about men and women who roam this earth with telekinetic and telepathic powers. Many use this ability for good; however, there is a niche group of them who utilize it for world dominance.

Heads Will Explode

What a way for 1981 to kick off when people were in theaters and saw the famous ‘head explosion’ scene that starred Michael Ironside. Scanners is a cult classic, but it was really the first film that got David Cronenberg more attention from the main stream, as prior to it, he was still more of an independent Canadian director. Cronenberg is known to take almost laughable genre movie tropes and make them serious. There is nothing funny about telekinetic abilities in Scanners. It is way more of a drama than anything else.

Stream on The Criterion Channel

9 Alive – January 15, 1993

Alive captures the thrilling true accounts of a plane wreckage in the Andes mountains that left Uruguay’s rugby team fighting for their lives. Ethan Hawke plays Nando, the member of the group who tries to keep everyone’s spirits up, but eventually, as time wears on and hunger begins to kick in, they must decide to eat some of their deceased teammates.

An Intense Tale of Survival

There’s a running joke that you should never show this movie for in-flight entertainment on a plane. Alive has become notorious for depicting what must happen in order for the men who survived the crash not to perish after the fact. There are many films like this, but never has the seriousness of the story weighed so much on the audience. You feel the stakes of this January ’93 release from the second the drama kicks into high gear. More recently, a retelling of the story has been made for Netflix in the film, Society of the Snow.

Rent on Apple TV

8 M3GAN – January 6th, 2023

M3gan

M3GAN

A robotics engineer at a toy company builds a life-like doll that begins to take on a life of its own.

Release Date
January 6, 2023

Director
Gerard Johnstone

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
1hr 42min

With Chucky now on television, someone needed to take up the mantel of the killer doll movie. A more recent release on this list is 2023’s M3GAN. A thriller about an AI-generated doll that is programmed to be a little girl’s best friend. That is, until it starts to commit disturbing acts towards those around it.

Blumhouse Does It Again!

Leave it to Jason Blum to fill the void we all need with killer doll films. Blumhouse would produce this hit that struck gold in early 2023. The marketing behind it is insane, and they are even duplicating it with a sequel in the works and another somewhat killer toy movie with Imaginary in just a few months. M3GAN drew in big crowds, especially in the teenage girl demographic, with its PG-13 rating. Its social media buzz was through the roof, mainly due to the video of the doll dancing to Britney Spears’ song “Toxic”. The new killer doll icon may just be here!

Stream on Prime Video

7 Cloverfield – January 18th, 2008

Cloverfield

Cloverfield

Release Date
January 15, 2008

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
90

The tagline “Something has found us” is worth the price of admission to see Cloverfield. A film that elevated the found footage subgenre by fusing it with a giant creature feature. A normal going-away party for a group of friends in New York City turns deadly as it is revealed that a giant creature is running around the city and tearing it apart. We are all in the dark as to why this giant creature is here, and that’s what makes it a wild ride.

A Summer Blockbuster in January

Cloverfield has the scale of a big-budget giant monster movie we would see in the summer, but producer J.J. Abrams and director Matt Reeves dumb down the approach by making it a found footage film. Cloverfield presents itself like a new take on something like Godzilla, but once you’re in the thick of it, the movie separates itself from the pack. It’s a master class in special effects. As a prime example, the Brooklyn Bridge scene looks incredibly real and holds up too, as the film is now close to being 16 years old.

Stream on Paramount+

6 Taken – January 30th, 2009

taken

Taken is simple in plot but highly sophisticated in its execution. Liam Neeson plays Bryan Millis, a former government operative who has a special set of skills. His daughter is kidnapped, and he must listen to her being abducted over a phone call. Now it is up to him to use the little evidence he has of the incident to fly to Europe, find his daughter, and take down the predators that have captured her.

“I Will Find You, and I WiIll Kill You”

Human traffickers deserve a beat down and maybe a shanking to go with it. Sorry, those are awful people, and why would you even want to get into that line of work? Anyways, Liam Neeson literally becomes every girl-dad’s spirit animal as he goes on the hunt for those who kidnapped her. He utilizes his skills as an operative to hunt down the men, and in doing so, he kicks a lot of asses to save his little girl. The odd thing about Taken is that it was completely dependent on its trailer. The monologue Neeson delivers in it gives you chills, so much so that you like hearing it again in the movie. Taken would spawn a few mediocre sequels, but energize Neeson’s career as an older man who could still mess up a room of bad guys.

Stream on Netflix

5 Paddington – January 16th, 2015

Paddington

Paddington

Release Date
November 24, 2014

Director
Paul King

Rating
PG

Runtime
95

Paddington is about a young bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) whose home has just been ruined by an earthquake, has made his way to England to find a new life. He is taken in by a family known as the Browns (Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins), but as soon as he finds comfort in his new life, a taxidermist (Nicole Kidman) takes an interest in him.

Paddington Owns January

A film like this is the perfect arena for it to thrive in. People still want to be spoon-fed happy-go-lucky, heartwarming stories of an animated animal that can talk to humans, even if it’s a month after Christmas. Paddington would get run over by Disney if it had to compete with it in the summer, or would it? Some argue this and its sequel are some of the best child-focused storytelling out there now. It started as a joke, but now consider this a dare to watch Paddington and try to hide your true feelings for it.

Stream on Netflix

4 Before Sunrise – January 27th, 1995

Before Sunrise

Before Sunrise

Release Date
January 27, 1995

Rating
R

Runtime
105

In Before Sunrise, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke play two people who encounter one another on a train to Paris. When it stops in Vienna, the two get off and spend the night roaming the city and taking in all that it has to offer. As the night goes on, the two become closer and closer, making parting ways in the morning more and more difficult.

Before Sunrise Is One of the Greatest Romance Movies of All Time

The first film in Richard Linklater’s ‘Before’ movies is maybe the best film in his filmography. At least once in our lives, we have found ourselves in a situation like Jesse and Celine. You meet someone, and you click, and it’s innocent, and you want to see how it goes, but it has to feel organic, and then you go down a brief journey with them, and then it’s over. Despite being released in 1995, Before Sunrise is still one of the best films to examine modern love. With it being a January release, a lot of people look for new things to fulfill them in the new year. Look no further than Before Sunrise, as that is what both of these characters are searching for in the film.

Rent on Prime Video

3 Paddington 2 – January 12th, 2018

paddington 2

Paddington 2

Release Date
November 9, 2017

Director
Paul King

Rating
PG

Runtime
103

Paddington 2 is the follow-up to, well, 2014’s Paddington; more on that soon because both films have cornered the market on a heartwarming tale of a movie that makes for a perfect January release. In Paddington 2, the cuddly animated bear makes his way out to a book store, where he buys a pop-up book for his aunt’s 100th birthday. The book is stolen from him, sending Paddington out on a long adventure to obtain the book and learn who the culprit is.

Why We Can’t Get Enough of Paddington 2

Many argue that Paddington 2 exceeds the original as it doubles down on the idea that children’s movies can work for both kids and adults and that it can be done outside a system like Disney. There’s a sweetness to the characters in the movie. Anyone who laughs off the bear known as Paddington in the first installment can’t fight the heartwarming feeling the second one brings, especially Nicolas Cage. Also, those incredible long shots in the movie make for some great eye candy for cinephiles alike.

Stream on Hulu

2 Get Out – January 23rd, 2017

Get Out

Get Out

Release Date
February 24, 2017

Rating
R

Runtime
103

Get Out is arguably one of the greatest horror films of all time. A cultural phenomenon about an interracial couple who spend the weekend at the home of their girlfriend’s parents. The focus of the film is on Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a black man in the home of a white family, and he begins to believe that something sinister is afoot and beyond anything he could have imagined.

Jordan Peele’s Debut Masterpiece

We’re breaking the rules a bit for the last two entries on this list. Get Out got a theatrical release the following month in February, but a month earlier at Sundance, it blew up big and got people buzzing, and boy were they right. Get Out was a success for just about everyone involved. Its social commentary on race relations in America hit at a time when there was a call to reexamine how this country views race. Would Get Out have made an impact like it did if its timing was off? We will never know. But in terms of the next era of horror movies, Jordan Peele is definitely leading the way.

Rent on Prime Video

1 The Silence of the Lambs – January 30th, 1991

Silence of the Lambs

Silence of the Lambs

Release Date
February 1, 1991

Rating
R

Runtime
118

The Silence of the Lambs is about Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), who is one of the best students at the FBI Training Academy and is brought in to help catch a serial killer named Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine). Starling utilizes the help of the murderer’s former therapist, a now-convicted cannibalistic murderer, Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins).

And the Oscar Goes to…

Again, we’re cheating here a bit. The Silence of the Lambs was technically released nationwide in February 1991, but was officially released in New York City a few weeks earlier. It’s a film known not for its scares in terms of what a horror film usually does to get under an audience’s skin, but more in the sense that it makes you feel how real the world of serial killers is. Like, people are walking among us, snatching other people up, killing them, and wearing their skin around. It would go on to become one of the greatest films of all time and the blueprint for crime thrillers going forward. Anthony Hopkins would walk away with an Oscar for his role in the film as Hannibal Lecter, and it would take the top prize at the Oscars for Best Picture. Not bad for a January release.

Stream on Max via Prime Video

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